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Union Activists File Charges Against Webvan Saying Company Restricts Organizing
Associated Press
FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Webvan Group could be among the first few dot-coms to push for unionization, but union activists say company rules are hurting their efforts.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 120 and 870 and Teamsters Local 70 have filed unfair labor practice charges against the Foster City-based online grocer, saying Webvan's policies restrict organizing at its Oakland warehouse. The charges, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, seek to change the company's policies nationwide, which could affect nearly 1,000 workers.

Webvan workers want a union contract because they are frequently switched from day shifts to night shifts and their co-payments for health insurance increased, said Rich Hedges, a spokesman for the UFCW locals.

Union organizers said Webvan prohibits unauthorized gatherings at work during free time; forbids solicitations on company e-mail; and does not allow warehouse workers to wear buttons, including those that support unionization.

Webvan spokesman Bud Grebey countered the company places no restrictions on employees gathering during their free time.

Grebey said the company can restrict use of e-mail because it is owned by the company, and that wearing buttons could be a health and safety threat because warehouse employees handle food and work with automated equipment.

The NLRB will investigate the charges and decide whether to hold a hearing.

Hedges said the unions are getting close to filing for an election, and that they will ask for a vote if more than half of the 300 workers in the company's San Francisco Bay area operations support unionization.

Workers from grocers like Safeway joined Webvan with hopes of cashing in on stock options, said Hedges. Webvan was trading at $25 a share after it went public in November 1999, but has plummeted to about 44 cents a share.

If Webvan goes the way of many dot-coms recently and shuts down, workers would have a better chance in bankruptcy court if they have a union contract, Hedges said.

Workers at etown.com were the first dot-commers to file for a union vote, which was delayed for six months because the union filed a complaint with the NLRB. And at Amazon.com, organizers are trying to establish a union.

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